The definition for networking states to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.. What they don’t tell you is that it can be a confronting experience filled with awkward moments and, well, no new networks formed. When done right, however, networking can prove to be extremely beneficial for your professional career as well as job opportunities.
Essentially, like all things in the creative fields, networking is a skill unto itself that requires practice just like anything else. No one starts off a wizard at networking, and the ones that are have experienced their fare share of awkward silences.
First things first is to find people to network with. You can often find business networking groups and events online, but often it’s best to start closer to home. Have you utilised your tertiary alumni network? Perhaps your teachers have some great connections or insight into the industry? Reach out and offer to catch up for a coffee. This is a great first step into the daunting networking world, and one that’s not as confrontational as attending an event with 100 plus strangers.
Once you’ve exhausted your own network, look online for local creative industry groups and events you can attend. Keep an eye out for panels, artist talks, in conversation breakfasts and things that attract solo attendees as much as groups. Don’t just attend any networking event, make sure it’s relevant to your industry or at least something you’d like to associate yourself with.
When you’re attending these events make sure you bring a handful of business cards along with you. There is nothing worse than making a connection and not being able to spruik your business successfully. After you’ve gone home with a wad of cards, send each one a personalised email about how great it was to meet them and that you’d love to catch up for coffee. This is how networking is done.
For those connections you want to build but can’t seem to meet in person, there is always the “cold call” of connecting via social media. It’s becoming more common for those in the creative industries and networking space to connect via LinkedIn or platforms like Instagram. These people have never met in person, but organise to then catch up for coffee. There have been many amazing collaborations and business relationships formed by these means, so don’t be shy to reach out.
When it comes to the actual conversation, remember to listen and ask questions. Ask about their business or creative practise and they will hopefully do the same in return. Not all conversations will be easy, but that’s part and parcel of the networking experience. The goal is to find people you gel with and you can work with in future, so it’s only natural that won’t be everyone you speak with. When you find the right connection you’ll know, as it’s one of the most satisfying experiences in the networking world.